The 2014 St. Louis Cardinals baseball season has proven to be one of the most frustrating in recent memory, with the club performing well below expectations all season long.
The only thing the team has found any consistency in is being disappointing. Time and time again. Poor offense. Shaky bullpen. Losses to lousy teams. It has all added up to a team that was supposed to walk away with the National League Central Division crown but, instead, finds itself struggling to get away from the .500 mark.
As hard as it is to believe, the Cardinals are actually much better than they were three years ago when they overcame midseason doldrums to eventually rally and to make the playoffs, beat a highly favored Philadelphia Phillies team and then ruin the season of the team they chased all year, the Milwaukee Brewers.
With 11 days to go in August that year, the Redbirds lost to the lowly Chicago Cubs to fall to 66-59, 7.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the standings. And things were going to get worse before they got better.
They'd go on to lose four of their next five games -- splitting the next two with the Wee Bears before getting swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers by a combined score of 22-7. When it was over, the Birds were an uninspiring 67-63.
Somehow the Cardinals went on to go 23-8 the rest of the way before storming to the playoffs to the World Series and a date with history.
In St. Louis fans' memories, the team from 2011 was the club that wouldn't quit. It was a team that was never out of games. At least not until the last strike was recorded. But that's not an accurate reflection of the club before Aug. 20. The Cardinals were lethargic and seemingly disinterested just as they often have been this year.
However, despite their struggles in 2014, the Cardinals don't find themselves seemingly impossibly behind like they were three years ago. They're currently ahead in the wild card race, in position to host the one game, winner-take-all playoff if the season were to end today. And they're only 2 1/2 games behind Milwaukee prior to the start of their Tuesday game against the Cincinnati Reds.
So, really, all signs point to Cardinals fans being spoiled by the success of a historically good team. While there is no arguing that the Redbirds have been a little off this season, fans of a lot of teams would give up a lot to be in the same position that St. Louis fans currently "enjoy."
It's difficult to point to one specific moment in 2011 that ignited the Redbirds. There's no formula to follow. But one noticeable difference between this season and the one three years ago is that St. Louis doesn't seem to have an arch rival to push it to greatness.
Three years ago, Nyjer Morgan nearly brought the Cardinals and Brewers to blows during a confrontation with ace Chris Carpenter. After the game, he mocked the Redbirds and their fans, inviting them to enjoy watching Milwaukee on TV during the playoffs.
This year the Brewers have been more businesslike and have stayed away from the bulletin board material. While their slugging outfielder, Ryan Braun, has been a whipping boy for fans across baseball because of the performance enhancing drug suspension he earned last season, Braun has managed to keep his trap shut and not enrage the opposition.
It looks like the Redbirds are going to have to look within to find their inspiration this time.